Ryan Wilkins is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
Ryan Wilkins: Welcome, party people in the place to be. I'm Ryan Wilkins, your host for this afternoon. I've got a cold drink in hand, some leftover chinese, and ESPN's Wednesday game on mute (allowing me to listen to AC/DC's Back In Black way too loud). So let's get to it!
wise guy (whereever): I'm sorry, who are you again?
Ryan Wilkins: Not an unfair question. I’m Ryan Wilkins: A’s fan, movie buff, Mac user, and Assistant Managing Editor of BP Online. I know I don’t write much for the site -- I’m currently responsible for The Week In Quotes and a few PTPs -- but as Jonah Keri keeps bugging me to write more that’ll probably change. I’m also one of the co-authors of Baseball Prospectus 2004, and will be writing for BP ’05 as well.
All that being said, I’m probably most distinguished by the fact that I’m young enough to call most of my colleagues “Pops,” or in Joe Sheehan’s case, “Gramps.”
Jimbo (Seattle): What do you think of Bill Bavasi? Is he the worst GM in baseball? The signings of Ibanez, Spiezo, and Aurilia appeared to be mediocre at best.
Ryan Wilkins: Worst is such a strong word, especially in a business that’s been employing Chuck LaMar as a GM since the first half of the Clinton administration. Bavasi hasn’t made the Mariners better in any sense of the word -- in fact, you could argue that every single move he made this offseason was a net negative for the M’s, from the Ibanez deal to not offering Cameron arbitration -- and I don’t suppose that trend is going to reverse itself anytime soon, but to call someone the worst in his/her respective business after just six months on the job is a bit premature. Of course, I’m not trying to defend the man; he’s taken a team that -- according to Pythagoras, the All-Knowing, All-Seeing Baseball God -- should have been in the postseason last year and turned it into a squad that could easily flirt with .500. I’m just saying that it’s early, and LaMar (among others) still has a corner office.
NoRotoGuy (San Diego): Brad Hawpe, Choo Freeman, Rene Reyes, Kit Pellow, Matt Holliday, Jorge Piedra, Jeff Salazar... Help me sort through the young Rockies outfielders. Are any of these guys going to merit a starting jobt any time soon? Ever?
Ryan Wilkins: In a word: not bloody likely. Hawpe’s minor league numbers look impressive, but he’s going to turn 25 in June and has spent only a half season above A-ball, where he struggled. On top of which, as a converted first baseman, he apparently learned to play defense at the Jack Cust/Stevie Wonder School of Pathetic Routes to the Ball. Freeman’s a tools demon who never really learned to swing the bat. Reyes is a replacement-level hitter at best, but is too old to be worth anything to a “rebuilding” team like the Rockies. Pellow’s a personal favorite -- a career minor-leaguer who didn’t taste his first cup of coffee until 2002 with the Royals; he’s just looking to accumulate service time at this point. Holliday, Piedra, Salazar … man, life’s too short to be writing about Rockies farm hands. If you want more information, please e-mail me (wilkins@bp). I hope this helped.
Clive (Baton Rouge, LA): The quotes are great. In your opinion, what percentage of a GM's job is player evaluation, what percentage is finance, what percentage is personall skills, what percentage is negotiation, and who's the most underrated GM?
Ryan Wilkins: Thanks, Clive. Frankly, I’m not sure that you can really separate the different responsibilities a GM has. How can you do player evaluation without considering finance? And does it really matter that you’re fantastic at player evaluation if you don’t have the personal skills to convert that knowledge into trades or free agent signings? The best GMs have well-rounded skill sets of their own, but also know how to surround themselves with individuals who compliment their weaknesses.
As for underrated… well, I’m not quite sure I understand the question. Underrated by what group? The mainstream media? The fabled “sabermetric community”? Capitalist pseudo-experts like us? As I’m sure you know, opinions can vary pretty widely from group-to-group, so I’m not sure I can give you a straight answer. Of course, if you’re asking strictly for my opinion, which may or may not be biased for a variety of reasons, I’d say the most underrated GM in baseball is probably J.P. Ricciardi. Take that as you like.
John R. Mayne (NorCal): Who are the top 5 3B's in the AL in 2004, in order?
Ryan Wilkins: John, if this is your subtle attempt to belittle my Scoresheet team for fielding a platoon of Eric Munson and Casey Blake, I’d say ... well, I’d say you’re doing a good job.
Off the top of my head, while defining the question as “Which 3B would you most like to have for 2004 and the future?” ...
1. Eric Chavez – A productive, albeit flawed, player who’s still young enough to take a moderate step forward against lefties. He’s durable, too, which is something people tend to overlook. And word on the street is that he’s pretty good with the glove.
2. Hank Blalock – The platoon split was nasty, yes, but it wasn’t any worse than Chavez’s, he’s still only 23, plays in a forgiving environment, and has the minor-league track record (not to mention the John Sickels’ Certified Stamp of Approval) to make you optimistic. Of course, his defense isn’t going to remind anyone of Scott Brosius charging in on the bunt, but there’s a lot of room for growth here. The difference between he and Chavez isn’t great, but is defined by Blalock’s poor production outside of Texas last year. Let’s hope it was a fluke.
3. Scott Rolen – Very good player with a well-rounded skill-set, which should lend itself to aging well. Hard to believe that he just turned 29, and probably has a year or two of peak value left. I still remember him getting hit on the hand during his 130th AB of the season in ’96, preserving his rookie status for another year.
4. Troy Glaus – The decline has been disconcerting, but PECOTA likes him for something of a rebound, and so do I. If he’s healthy and hits .280, he’s an MVP candidate (and yes, I realize that he hasn’t done that in four seasons). I’m a sucker for secondary skills, what can I say?
5. Sean Burroughs – The power’s coming.
Joshua G. (San Diego, CA): Ryan - Just wanted to say that I love The Week In Quotes. It's one of the best features at BP.com, in my opinion, and a constant source of laughs for me and my co-workers. Your April Fool's edition was pure gold.
Ryan Wilkins: Thanks, Joshua. TWiQ is a fun gig and I’m glad you enjoy it. However, I have to admit that not all the lines from the April Fool’s edition were mine. Gary Huckabay contributed his acerbic wit to the cause, as did techie James Click. My thanks goes out to them.
Zachary (Los Angeles, CA): When Depodesta acquired Bradley, he said that he was doing it with Beane on his heels. I don't know why the A's would go after Bradley unless they could move one of their OFs/1Bs/DHs. In my opinion, I think Depodesta was getting pressure from McCourt to pick up a hitter and dropped Beane's name(under the table) to legitimize this trade. Thoughts?
Ryan Wilkins: That’s certainly possible, but frankly it wouldn’t shock me if Beane had been pursuing Bradley pretty hard. At age 25, Bradley hit .321/.421/.501 while playing a competent a center field. Guys like that don’t grow on trees; if you’re a GM, and you have the opportunity to acquire one, you shoot first and ask questions later. If the result is having to move Bobby Kielty to DH full-time, Ruby Durazo to 1B, and giving Scott Hatteberg bad directions to the ballpark, then that’s fine, because the net gain justifies the move -- especially when you consider how cheap Bradley’s going to be over the next few years.
Paul DePodesta did a fantastic job in acquiring Bradley. Franklin Gutierrez is a studly prospect with some serious power, but he’s not without his flaws. Meanwhile, the NL West is ripe for the taking RIGHT NOW. Sure, the move doesn’t exactly make them the front runner in their division, and they’ll still have trouble scoring 650 runs, but Bradley is young enough to be part of the next good Dodgers’ team, along with James Loney, Edwin Jackson, and James-Andrews-willing, Greg Miller.
And yes, I just realized that I modified John's question about 3Bs... It's probably for the best, though, given that we share a division in AL-BP_NorCal. ;-)
Alex (Houston): How does Jimy Williams receive money in exchange for his baseball decisions? Sheer highway robbery! Any chance Sheehan would consider an assistant manager position with the Stros.
Ryan Wilkins: I can’t speak for Joe, but I imagine he’d take the job, assuming that all stipulations against clubhouse card-playing would be lifted indefinitely. Playing Texas Hold ‘Em with Joe in New Orleans was a bit like watching Matt Damon go to work in the horribly-overrated-yet-still-fun-to-watch-with-your-buddies “Rounders.”
Watching Nate Silver, meanwhile, was a bit like watching Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man,” but that’s another story...
James (San Diego): David Well’s PECOTA projection in Baseball Prospectus 2004 confuses me. The note in below his name seems to predict an ominous season. But his collapse probability is 0%, and his improvement probability is 76%… and that’s after a pretty good season. Am I missing something? How can he have zero shot of collapsing?
Ryan Wilkins: Ah, the perils of forecasting. Nate Silver could speak to this better than I can, but I imagine that Wells’ 0% Collapse Rate is in large part due to limitations of the data. After all, PECOTA derives its forecasts from creating a list of historically comparable players, and there aren’t too many pitchers still in the majors at the age of 41, let alone 41-year-old pitchers with Wells’ unique skill-set (i.e., mediocre/poor K-rate but microscopic BB-rate). As a result, his list is populated with an especially unique set of comps, all of whom are outliers in-and-of-themselves. (And a quick perusal of Wells’ comp list confirms this: Gaylord Perry, Tommy John, Jerry Koosman... Jim Kaat, Warren Spahn, Mike Morgan, Don Sutton. These aren’t typical pitchers in any sense of the word.)
Greg (Boston): An important question: have you done any research to determine the VORP (Value Over Replacement Pizzeria) of Zachary's Chicago Pizza? If so, any word yet on the MMVr (Marginal Menu Value rate) of the Spinach & Mushroom compared to the Chicken Special?
Ryan Wilkins: An excellent question from someone who’s obviously read the author biographies in the back of Baseball Prospectus 2004.
A more instructive exercise, however, might be to compile a list of PECOTA-style comparables for the different pizzas available to the eating public:
Uno’s (Chicago) -> Ted Williams, Barry Bonds (Once-in-a-lifetime type talent)
Zachary’s -> George Brett, Robin Yount (Outstanding)
Amici’s NY Pizza -> Dick Allen, Ron Santo (Borderline great)
Roundtable -> Todd Hollandsworth (Average, nothing special)
Domino’s -> Tony Womack (‘Nuff said)
Jay Jaffe (New York City): Ryan, you and I discussed the Dodgers situation at length over the winter. I know that like most other BP writers you're a fan of Billy Beane and his acolytes. What do you think of the moves that Paul DePodesta has made as Dodger GM so far? Do you think the new ideas he's bringing in will be compatible with the tradition-steeped Dodgers, or will he encounter institutional resistence in implementing his approach, particularly with regards to his drafting strategy?
Ryan Wilkins: Hi, Jay. Thanks for the question, and great interview today. As for DePodesta: I think the moves he’s made so far have been good, though not large enough in scale to change the face of the NL West just yet. Jayson Werth has some upside, though his extreme platoon split is a bit worrisome. Grabowski’s a decent pickup at essentially zero cost. I’ve already discussed my thoughts on the Bradley trade. To borrow from Joe Sheehan, “Dude’s been earning his keep.”
As for his ability to implement new ideas... well, you’re always going to run into opposition when you’re trying to innovate. However, the Dodgers are unique in that they’re tied to their history in a way that few organizations are, so it’s likely that DePo will face more problems than normal. From what I understand, though -- and from what I read in his now-infamous “Thought Leader Forum” speech -- Paul’s an incredibly bright guy with an understanding of how to manage old ideas while introducing new ones. He and the Dodgers will be fine.
By the way: Is anyone seeing these "Break Up the Yankees" commercials on ESPN? Am I crazy, or is that the same Bruce Cutler from the early-'90s John Gotti trials? Dershowitz has some guts; I'm not sure I'd really want to argue with that guy.
Josh (RI): Ryan, other than the obvious (Mo Pena), which PECOTA prediction was the most surprising to you?
Ryan Wilkins: I was surprised at how conservative it was with Roy Halladay, frankly, given the addition of GB/FB ratio to the calculations. I assumed he’d get a much lower ERA projection. While we don’t often endorse the “long-term” signing of pitchers into their 30s, I thought the deal Halladay got from the Jays was both smart and deserved. He won’t maintain his 250 IP/mid-3.00s ERA performance in the later years of the deal, but the Jays are about a year away from breaking down the Berlin Wall (so to speak), and he’s the type of pitcher you build around.
Oh, and to relate this to a previous topic, I was shocked at how favorable Franklin Gutierrez’ long-term projection was, given his poor control of the strike zone, especially considering how conservative PECOTA is with young players.
Medea's Child (Los Angeles): So what are your top five baseball quotes of all time?
Ryan Wilkins: Oh man... the list is so long. The one quote that always stuck out to me was this one from Reggie Jackson, back in August of '02, when Derek was still at the helm of TWiQ. Here, lemme find it...
"I hate to be in a position where it looks like I'm knocking players, because that's not my intention, but who in Detroit made the decision to give Bobby Higginson $11.8 million per year? And who's the guy in Colorado who gave $55 million to Denny Neagle who we [the Yankees] relegated to the bullpen in the  postseason? You have people making these kinds of decisions who rely on stats and computers."
--Reggie Jackson, Hall of Famer and Yankees special advisor
It just works on so many levels.
Josh (Providence): Hey Ryan, I noticed in the Prospectus Predictions that you picked the Dodgers to place second in the NL West, behind both the Giants and the Diamondbacks. With the loss of kevin Brown, and the expected return to mortal-like effectiveness of the rest of the staff, how do you expect LA to improve on last year's record, nevermind score enough runs to beat out the Giants and Snakes? Is Milton Bradley going to have that much of an effect?
Ryan Wilkins: Lots of Dodgers questions today...
Notice I didn't provide win-totals for each team in my picks. The Dodgers could realistically win fewer games this year and still finish second in the West. It was a pick-your-poison type situation, and I went with the team that is mostly likely to improve itself in meaningful ways as the year goes on, in my mind.
We're getting near the lightning round, folks.
Dejected in Denver (Denver (CO)): Hey, when are we going to get a pizza feed or book signing in Denver.
Ryan Wilkins: We're working hard, Dejected, and we apologize for not getting to the rocky mountains sooner. Please keep an eye on our Book Tour schedule as well as our Pizza Feed page. Oh, and bugging Nate Silver with a barrage of emails doesn't hurt, either...
Josh (RI): On Sportsnation today, they had a question involving who the most under-rated player in baseball history is. In modern baseball history( post 1900), who would you say is the most under-rated player?
Ryan Wilkins: Tough question. Lots of players have been underrated throughout history, for a vareity of reasons, so it's tough to quantify who's rated lower than who, etc. My short list includes...
- Tim Raines (probably No. 1, when push comes to shove)
- Dick Allen
- Barry Bonds
- Rickey Henderson
Not to be inflammatory, but there's something common that these players share, and I'm of the belief that that's a large reason why they haven't been given their proper due. As time marches on, however, I can only hope that changes, and they get the recognition they deserve.
Cris (Rancho Cucamonga): Blanton or Harden, who do you keep and why?
Ryan Wilkins: OK, let's move to the lightning round....
Harden: younger, better K rate at a higher level. That's not to say that Blanton's a slouch, of course...
Sean (Reno): This is an oddball Mets question -- what are your thoughts on the Trachsel extension? And beyond that, what are the difficulties for teams that try to look 'respectable' now while still building for the future?
Ryan Wilkins: Offered without comment...
Age Year K/9
30 2001 6.5
31 2002 5.0
32 2003 4.6
As for your second question... It's a split, to be sure, but in the end flags fly forever, so I'd say you have to lean more toward building your team than just projecting the facade of respectability.
Wily (Cin-Cin): Better long-term: Dunn or Kearns?
Ryan Wilkins: I love Dunn, but Kearns has the more rounded skill set, and will probably be more consistent over the years.
Josh (RI): Which team's players rack up more DL time in 2004, the Yankees or the Red Sox?
Ryan Wilkins: Yanks.
xian (champaign, il): "Pitch counts don't matter"; "Mark Prior is on steroids" April seems to be stupid month every year for Jack McDowell. If I go to see "Stick Figure" perform at my local drinking establishment, what stunningly thoughtful new revelation will Black Jack leave me with?
Ryan Wilkins: That Eric Clapton (muffled guffaw) was a better guitarist than Jimi Hendrix.
Rob (Wisconsin): Ryan,
Jermaine Dye: Comeback Player of the year, Oakland A's: World Series Champion.... Is it as simple as this, maybe?
Ryan Wilkins: Maybe not that simple, but it's close. If Dye can manage a .270/.340/.480 season in 500 PA, the A's win the West walking away.
Ryan Wilkins: OK folks -- it's been fun, but I've got run. Thanks for all the questions. If you didn't get your question answered, feel free to email me at wilkins-at-baseballprospectus.com.
Oh, and for those of you in the Bay Area, we're having a book signing in Oakland at the Barnes & Noble on Broadway at 7 p.m. Check out the Book Tour page for directions/details. Michael Wolverton and I will be answering your question over free pizza. Come on down if you have the evening free.
Oh, and a hearty congrats to Gary Huckabay and his wife Kathy, who became parents yesterday. From what we understand, the kid's already on a strict pitch count, and will be arbitration eligible in 2010.
Thanks, everybody! Be excellent to one another...